Before getting to the details for
hands and feet, let me reiterate that riders sometimes miss the
obvious when facing issues with cold extremities - Protect
the brain and Insulate the pipes. The brain, being the central
control unit, protects itself first. Extremities are the
lowest priorities. So the most important item of clothing for
keeping the hands and feet warm is actually what is on your head!
It should be obvious that the hands and feet are at the end of
your arms and legs, and the warm blood you'd like to have flowing
around your hands and feet has to pass from your heart inside
your nice warm core out through the arms and legs to get to the
hands and feet. Imagine your hot water heater working away down
in your basement, but with uninsulated pipes running outside the
house to get upstairs to your shower, or the duct work from your
furnace running outside the house before reaching a vent in your
living room. A lot of heat will be lost through those uninsulated
exposed pipes and ducts. Same for your body.
I am amazed when I hear someone who is wearing shorts or knee
warmers and overshoes, complain about cold feet. The rider will
often claim their legs aren't cold, it's just the feet.
But the blood that warms the feet has to travel through those
exposed legs to get there. So be sure that you have enough insulation
on your arms and legs. You may have the warmest gloves made and
still have cold hands if your arms aren't adequately covered.
Of course it is the balancing act. Remember that another common
mistake that people make is overdressing. Exercise generates heat
(and sweat). It's important to avoid damp clothing if you want
to keep warm. So it's a true Goldilocks mission to find what is
just right! But have no fear, it isn't impossible.
When most folks think about cycling gloves, it's usually the
nice cool fingerless padded gloves cushion your hands on longer
rides! In the warmer months, you are probably trying to find the
coolest, lightest and most breathable gloves.
But sometimes, it gets cold, and you need more than just shock
I start with liners. Glove liners are essential for me. I always
have a pair with me. They can add several degrees of comfort
to any glove, extending the range of the outer glove
significantly. They are also great with big bulky gloves for
when you need to take the outer layer off, to operate a camera
or open an energy bar for instance. The photo above shows a
pair of lightweight wool liners from Ibex.
They are light and thin enough to fit under my other gloves,
yet provide that extra warmth.
A couple of years ago, John and I were out riding on Christmas
Day, when I found this brand new pair of gloves in the middle
of the road, clearly someone else's Christmas gift, lost out
of a pocket on their first outing. These have been great for
borderline warm conditions - and the price couldn't be
These Louis Garneau
gloves are for 45F-55F. I bought them a couple of years ago
after a cold spring-time brevet, to help encourage the arrival
of warm weather. It didn't work! I used them several
times that spring. These are a cycling specific glove with terry
cloth thumb and not a lot of bulk. I added the Lightweights
reflective dots. I used the fabric specific version and ironed
them on. The dots have survived many washings. I also have a
pair of Chiba
Windstopper gloves that cover the same range.
I use these Chiba
Waterproof gloves for 35F-45F. These are labeled waterproof,
and have survived more than a few wet rides. In a long heavy
downpour water may eventually get into the glove due to capillary
action as water come down the arm of a jacket. (As mentioned
in the previous post, a rain cape is one of the best ways to
keep the hands dry and warm, but may not work so well in windy
conditions.) I have used these gloves commuting in 40F rainy
conditions. They have cycling specific padding and grips, and
the very important terry cloth thumb for wiping runny noses.
They have a warm fleecy interior, but are not so bulky that
they would cause issues with integrated shifters. If I could
have just one pair of winter cycling gloves, these are the ones,
especially when supplemented with the liners!
But fortunately, I'm not limited to one pair!
My 25F-35F gloves are a pair of ski gloves to which I've also
added some reflective tape from lightweights.
These have enough room to supplement with a light glove liner,
and/or a padded cycling glove. I'll also point out the security
cords on these - very handy when I pull the gloves off on the
move to take Panda shots and other photos!
And last, but not least, although hopefully used very little,
are my mittens for the coldest cycling conditions. I acquired
them a few years ago when I bought my Lake Winter cycling boots,
which I talked about below. These have a nice warm fleecy lining,
and a heavy canvas outer. They are roomy enough to use with a
moderately thick glove liner. And they have a little zippered
pocket for a hand warmer - if it's brutally cold. They have some
reflective material on the sides, which faces back when my hands
are on the hoods. These are good for temps below 25F. I've used
these many times in single digit temperatures.
The above selection are the gloves I keep by the door in the winter!
Fear Rothar has a similar collection with a few other brands
and models thrown in the mix.
The point of showing several gloves to cover different temperature
ranges is that if you are riding in real and varied
winter conditions, you likely need more than one pair of gloves,
and will find yourself with a similar ranking of gloves for temperature.
As mentioned above, range extending can be done using a glove
liner, but for a wide variety of winter weather, different
gloves are really handy for different conditions.
Before I head out for a ride, I check the current temperature
and forecast, and grab gloves accordingly. Sometimes I'll take
multiple pairs if the temperature is due to change a lot (or if
I misjudged and got cold the day before and just want to be sure!)
Disclaimer: I mostly ride fixed gear bikes in the winter, so I
have no worries about jamming fiddly shift levers when using bulky
gloves or mittens. And my bikes with gears have bar-end shifters
which also are no problem with even the bulkiest of gloves or
mittens. Something to consider in a winter bike!
And finally, I will also mention handlebar mitts like Pogies,
Moose Mitts and Bar-Mitts.
These are oversize mitts that attach to the handlebars at the
brake levers. There are models for both road style drop bars and
flat bars. The idea is you wear a light glove and place your gloved
hand inside a giant outer glove, providing ample insulation and
windproofing while leaving you with fine control for brakes and
So onto the feet...
I use wool socks year round. Defeet,
Smartwool and Bridgedale
are my current favorites. I've recently noticed the toes are starting
to get threadbare in some of them, so I will be sock shopping
soon. I tried some Swiftwick
socks this summer and really liked them. I'll have to order some
longer ones to try this winter.
I use very different cycling shoes in the summer and winter. My
summer shoes are well ventilated, while the winter shoes
are well insulated. Also my winter shoes are larger. This
way I can use thicker socks or heavy insoles or inserts. Many
people make the mistake of using the same shoes or same size shoes
and trying to stuff thick socks into them in the winter. A shoe
that is too tight restricts circulation and makes the feet even
colder. I used winter cycling boots from Sidi
for years with great luck, but found Lake
Winter Cycling Boots were even warmer. The Sidis are good
in-between summer and winter shoes for me. Mavic and Shimano also
make a winter cycling boot, but I haven't tried either. Cycling
shoes in general can be expensive, and winter boots are no exception.
But by far, my winter cycling boots are the best investment I
have made for winter cycling!
For the outer layer, I like Goretex
or Windstopper overshoes.
I rarely need an additional layer with my Lake shoes, but for
lighter shoes or really wet conditions, an overshoe can extend
the comfort range. Fenders and long mudflaps are also helpful.
I mentioned earlier that I rarely need to replace a good jacket
or shoes. I can't same the same for overshoes. I tend to buy a
new pair every year. I've been searching for years for overshoes
that will hold up. Most have flimsy soles that wear out quickly
if walked on, but I have found a few in my travels with thick
rubber soles - which hold up much better. Of course the downside
is that they are bulky and take up a lot of space when stored,
which is a consideration for touring. I have some flimsy lightweight
ones for tours, and keep the bulkier ones for occasions where
stowing them is not an issue.
My favorite overshoe (that I used for years of commuting) is no
longer made. It had a good rubber sole with a cutout for the heel
and the cleat, and a Velcro closure in the rear to make it easy
to get on and off and adjust for different size shoes. I really
like not having a zipper to get clogged with mud. The lesson here
is when you find one you like, buy a spare or two, since they
may no longer be available when you need new ones!
I avoid neoprene totally. Every time I have tried it, I just end
up sweaty, wet and cold. Some people tell me it works well for
shorter rides, but I have had no luck with it, and avoid it completely.
Given how much of it I see in shops, it must work for some folks
- I'm just not one of them.
But even heavy winter boots and overshoes isn't always enough.
Sometime it gets downright cold! There are various types of hand
and toe warmers available. For about $1 a pair, one can get disposable
warmers. They last about 5 hours and are terrific. I keep a couple
of packs of toe warmers in my saddlebag throughout the winter
for emergencies. I have given them away often.
Now to the head...
If your head hasn't told you that cycling in the winter is insane...
I'll just say again that the head is the most important thing
to keep warm. The body protects what it considers vital first,
so if the head isn't warm, heat is diverted from the extremities
to protect the control center/brain. This is why it is often said,
"If your feet are cold, put on a hat."
I use a wool headband for cool temperatures, a wool hat for cold,
and a windstopper skullcap for bitter cold. Hats need not be cycling
specific, although I do have a nice peaked cap with ear flaps
I have both wool and fleece neck warmers. These are one of the
best and yet most overlooked pieces of winter cycling gear. Jackets
may not snug up around the neck and cold air tunnels in. A neck
warmer may also serve double duty as a face mask.
A helmet cover designed to block the wind coming through those
(wonderful in the summer) air vents is also very important. I
have a bright yellow one made by Carradice,
which in addition to blocking the wind is also highly visible.
I also have a less garish (black with reflective piping) model
In extreme conditions, I have been known to use ski goggles. These
are really reserved for temps below 10F. Anything above that and
they are just too warm for me. They eliminate issues with glasses
fogging up when stopped at traffic lights, and keep the eyeballs
This is how I dress for winter. Next up, I will talk about the
bikes I use in the winter.